The Cost-to-Fun Ratio On Vacations

We went on a mini-vacation to Chattanooga this weekend around a triathlon for Donnie. We left Thursday night, did 5 full days of activities in 2.5 days, and then came home yesterday. Let me tell you – if anyone can cram more activities into a 4-day, 3-night trip – I don’t want to meet them. Because they are crazy.

I have mixed emotions about Chattanooga. I mean – I overwhelmingly love the city and always enjoy my time there. BUT – I always feel a little disgruntled about the Go To touristy activities around the city. When we went a few years ago we did the Rock City/Ruby Falls/Inclined Railway trio and, yes. It was GREAT. But my favorite part? Was the cool campground we stayed at and the Drive-In Theater we went to.

It’s not that the other things aren’t great, I just have trouble rectifying the cost with the experience.

I have the same feelings about the Aquarium and the Creative Discover Museum. We did that this trip. And yes…SO FUN! But also? SO EXPENSIVE. I just never feel like the cost/experience balances out. You know what we had fun doing this weekend? Playing in the (FREE!) fountains and water features around the aquarium and at Coolidge Park. The small and affordable Zoo was GREAT. We loved walking around the Art District and Walnut Street Bridge. We loved swimming in the hotel pool.

I just always walk away from a trip thinking torn. The kids loved the Aquarium and the Creative Discovery Museum, but did they love it enough to balance the outrageous cost? BAH. I don’t know. I’d rather spend the money on the nice/convenient hotel (which we did also) with a POOL and spend more time doing fun cheap/free stuff and eating interesting food than do the expensive touristy stuff.

What about you? First – do you feel The Aquarium is worth the cost because Donnie says, “Yes! NO CONTEST!” Then, would you rather do the big/expensive touristy stuff or the off-the-beaten path stuff?

Either way…we had a GREAT trip. We did a little bit of everything. We stayed busy and made every second and every dollar worth it because we maximized the fun in every moment.

And the Triathlon! It was great. Donnie did this one last year by himself and insisted we come because it would be fun to spectate. It was!

This is a HUGE race which freaked me out because the logistics of triathlons…FREAK ME OUT. Have you ever been to one? It’s INSANE. Three different sports! In one race! I mean – I find it fascinating and intimidating and I’m so glad Donnie does these things so I can watch on in awe.

All in all? Great trip. No matter how you feel about the cost-to-fun ratio of places like The Aquarium.

10 Comments

  • Kelli Oliver George

    We recently go an aquarium here in Kansas City AND a Legoland Discovery center. I bought discount/combo tickets for me and the kids so the aquarium cost $28 total and the Legoland cost $40. And yes, for venues that equalled a mere 2-3 hours a piece, it just didn’t not seem worth it. In comparison, I buy a full YEAR’S membership to a children’s museum for $80. A whole year!

    So, I get you. I am planning a little Western Kansas mini-roadtrip in the next month because i am with you — half the fun of a vacation can be staying in the hotel, being on the road and discovering a new park, or bridge. 🙂

  • Melizzard

    I’m with you on that one. The cost of those places makes me cringe. The problem is that unless you already know the city/area in question, it’s hard to find the low/free/fun things to do. Is there a website for that? There should be if there isn’t.

    Right now I’d love to plan a long weekend exploring around the W Coast of Florida with the girls because they’ve never been over to that side but I can’t seem to find the non-touristy info to get me motivated.

  • Therese

    I’m totally with you on the cost/fun ratio issue. I want to do those activities (museums, aquariums…) but definitely get irritated at the cost. I think those activities sometimes make short “close to home” vacations more expensive than going to the beach for a week. Yes, a week a the beach is expensive as far as travel and lodging but once there we don’t do anything but play on the beach…

    Also, I used to live in Chattanooga and so miss the fun stuff to do downtown. I love Walnut Street Bridge and Coolidge Park and well, it’s just great. I participated in the triathalon as well (I was the running leg of a relay team). It was a cool experience but also hot and miserable. Kudos to Donnie for doing it!

  • Isabel

    I’m with you, Zoot. While we vacation a lot it’s super rare that we’ll go to a museum or pay to tour a church or something. Being on the parks and beaches (and picnics). We we’re on Reno last week and playing on the Trukee River was the most fun we had. And it was free.

    Also, Donnie is awesome.

  • Sarah Lena

    We usually only travel when Bryan has to work somewhere. That way, hotel is paid for. His meals are paid for. It’s just us stowaways that need grub.

    Driving away from our Chattanooga adventure this weekend, we asked the boys what their favorite part of the trip was. Jack didn’t have one. Tony’s was .. watching ESPN at the hotel.

    SO I’M WITH YOU. Don’t pay the money. Just do the free/inexpensive stuff. THEN GO BUY CLOTHES FOR YOU.

  • Crystal

    I’m from a family that often was able to afford going on vacation but could never handle an all out vacation to Disneyland. We sort of had a middle ground arrangement, and would go visit where we had family living that had accommodations large enough to include us, and lived nearby several good vacation spots. So in the family visit we could hang out at a beach for a day, go to an amusement park, a zoo, and even visit other touristy things, Some of those things, were very expensive, others not really. We usually did the inexpensive things every year and would do one of the expensive things. It was also nearby another city that had a different zoo so we could change that up a bit for variety. Coming from that sort of experience I think from the kids perspective, being able to say they did those more expensive touristy things at least once is nice, but I didn’t mind doing the cheap things either. So I’d say if you have the money and they enjoyed it, then it’s well spent. While I understand the pull towards the more frugal options, I try to measure whether the cost is worth it based upon how much the children enjoy it. Not against the fun they had for less money at a different activity/place. Either way I think it works to have a balance, and it allows them a broad variety of memories and experiences.

  • angie

    I love, love, love touristy stuff. I’m a sucker for it all. I hate, hate, HATE the price. We try to do a little of both touristy and off-the-beaten-path stuff when we vacation because it really does make it feel like we get more for our money. It burns me up that the big aquariums and such charge so much money and when you have 2 or 3 or more kids, the cost is outrageous. Do not get me started on the price of the food inside such places! Ugh. $8 for a pretzel, are you kidding me? I find that I get really stressed out when planning a vacation or mini-vacation, especially when it is to a city we’ve never been, because I want to do those major things but my wallet does not!

    Looks like you guys had tons of fun. Love all of your photos!

  • Cara

    Keeping in mind that I live in Tourist Central (Orlando, FL), it’s the crowds and lines that kill me. I refuse to pay the outrageous fee at Disney, but as a result I’m less appalled by the price of other touristy attractions. But, nothing prepares me for the crowds.

  • Kim @ This Belle Rocks

    Both. I can’t imagine going to a new city (or re-visiting one), and not doing at least some of the touristy stuff the city is famous for. However, I am always on a budget, and would definitely balance things out with free/off-the-beaten-path stuff.

    Looks like you all had so much fun 🙂

  • Alli

    Yup! As someone who lives in Chattanooga, I do believe the cost to those two places is high. We used to have memberships (sometimes grandparents give them as gifts), but those fell to the wayside in favor of feeding and clothing ourselves. But, when we did have a membership to the CDM, we had a national one. The reason was we were able to get discounts into other CDM-type places, like the Boonshauft in Dayton, Ohio, where my parents live. Maybe some CDM-type place in Huntsville has something similar? Even going to Boonshauft once with the CDM membership was a big cost cutter. The next time you are in Chattanooga, spring for the zoo membership. You then get to be part of the reciprocity program for zoos and aquariums. From what I understand, the cost of a zoo membership in Chattanooga is cheaper than going to the Knoxville Zoo. And the next time you went to the Knoxville Zoo you can get 50% off your admission there with the Chattanooga Zoo membership. (BTW we have never ridden on a camel at the Zoo! You are so lucky!) But we too look for the free and cheap things.